There is a famous old saying that “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. Is it true though? And do our setbacks, be it relationships, health, career, financial and many others, actually build our strength and resolve to eventually succeed in life?
My belief is that this statement holds a lot of truth, and that our setbacks in life, or more to the point, how we use them to grow in character, are ultimately what benefit us in the long-term. Although, in saying this it may not be kishin-fukuoka quite as easy as a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Because there are some challenges or setbacks in life that may not kill us, but may not make us any stronger than we were before the onset of the setback. Examples that come to mind may include things like mental and physical illnesses caused anything from injuries to substance abuse.
However, if we choose to look at the meaning of ‘stronger’ and interpret it to include aspects such as being wiser, worldly, more at peace with ourselves and others, and being able to contribute more to those we love and care about, then this famous saying can take on a much more empowering meaning and can often be seen as a blessing in disguise!
I feel that life’s setbacks teach us many things about ourselves, how we view the world, and how capable we are of making the most of it. When life is going smooth according to our goals and expectations, we often take it for granted and do not realise the true depths of our character, as Helen Keller describes below, and while there is certainly nothing wrong with a life without challenges, it also means that we may miss out on some vital learning opportunities to grow.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Helen Keller (1880-1968) American writer and social activist.
One of the beauties of going through setbacks, as hard as they may seem, is that they teach us to re-evaluate what is important in life and to actually seek aspects of our life that are actually going well which we may have previously overlooked. The word GRATITUDE comes to mind here.
The good news is that it can be very exciting to look at the aspects of our lives that are going well and by focusing on these, we can have an immediate sense of peace and appreciation, even for a short space of time, with a change of thought. Now imagine what peace and appreciation we could generate if we practiced this more often? It may be difficult, but just as we train the body for physical wellbeing, we can definitely train the mind for mental wellbeing too.
I acknowledge that it can be hard to simply switch your focus. Sometimes the stresses of life and anxiety of the future can be debilitating. That is why I think that exposure to either challenges, or others with challenges, can be indeed humbling and help us focus on what we DO HAVE, rather than what we don’t.
A friend of mine recently was feeling down at the fact that he was turning 30 years old but had not yet achieved all his goals he had set for himself, which were to set up a business, earn a six figure salary and own his own house with an investment on the side. Interestingly, as we talked about this it became clear that while he did not have all of those things, he had a beautiful and supportive fiancée on his side, he had great health, had travelled the world, socialised and made many friends, and still had a good job with a good income.
We discussed whether he could have had the time, money or energy for such a fulfilling lifestyle had he focused on those goals he had originally set for himself, and who knows? Perhaps not. A change of focus was all that was needed to see the other side of what had originally seemed like an unsuccessful life, to a fulfilling one.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Dr. Wayne Dyer (1940-) American self-help author and motivational speaker.
In my own relatively short life, I have experienced some setbacks. Only three years ago I was given a health diagnosis that now and then sends shockwaves through my mind and body. It still is a challenge at times, but I believe it is also a blessing in disguise because it shifted my focus away from what I thought was so important at the time, to the very simple things that I took for granted that I no longer do! And the result? Less interest in seeking things outside of me for fulfilment, but instead looking inward to find more inner peace and happiness, and tapping into new skills and passions that I never thought I had before.
I would not dare preach to the world on how to make light of serious health challenges that for so many people cause pain and suffering. This is not the focus of the article. But I would simply like to ask the question of whether in some small way, are we able to recognise the changes that such setbacks may have brought us to focus on the little things in life that we may have taken for granted earlier? Our families, our friends, our freedom, our ability to read this article with our eyes?
Sometimes I feel that the answer to a fulfilling life is such a paradox. On one hand it may seem so challenging and frustrating that we feel the need to ‘study’ the art of happiness and seek guidance through many self help books and teachers. But on the other hand, is the answer much simpler and a lot closer to home? I mean, if our goal is to be happy each and every day, keeping in mind that happiness is so often just a thought away or a change in focus and that this can only come from within ourselves, is it really that difficult?
I don’t believe it is. And while life throws us challenges that make it difficult to focus on the positives and make light of difficult situations, maybe just the knowledge that there are some (even if a few) aspects of life that do make us happy at times, this alone gives us some light to guide us to the end of the tunnel.
Stay strong and embrace the challenges that help us grow…
About the Author:
Kishin Thadani is a counsellor aiming to help people of all walks of life to address their life challenges and succeed at living according to their innermost desires.